Royal Caribbean Stock is Ready to Make Waves in 2017

By Rick Munarriz Markets Fool.com

Image source: Royal Caribbean.

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Wall Street is warming up toRoyal Caribbean(NYSE: RCL) as analysts angle to chime in as bullish ahead of Thursday morning's quarterly report. Rachel Rothman at Susquehanna became the latest Wall Street pro to check in as bullish, bumping her price target on the stock from $95 to $99.

Rothman's banking on a cheery outlook when it reports its fourth-quarter results on Thursday. As a highly-leveraged, cyclical company -- a fair description of Royal Caribbean given the nearly $10 billion in long-term debt on its balance sheet -- Rothman sees this as the perfect storm where strong demand, improving pricing power, and the cruise line's solid free cash flow should deliver a knockout performance. She's sticking to her firm's Positive rating on the stock.

Last week it wasStifel analyst Steven Wieczynski checking in with an upbeat note. He feels that Thursday's results and the 2017 guidance that it's expected to initiate will be positive catalysts for Royal Caribbean shares. Wieczynski expects analysts to push their profit targets higher following what he predicts will be a better-than-expected showing. That's not a very risky statement to make. Royal Caribbean has surpassed analyst earnings estimates with ease every quarter over the past year.

Following the leader

It's easy to fall for the bullish sentiment given the travel niche's favorable momentum. Larger rivalCarnival Corporation & plc(NYSE: CCL)(NYSE: CUK)postedencouraging resultslast month. Carnival operates on a different fiscal calendar than Royal Caribbean. Carnival saw revenue climb a modest 6% for the quarter, but adjusted income soared 26%.

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Gross revenue yields -- essentially revenue divided by available lower berth days -- rose at a higher-than-expected 4.1% clip on a constant currency basis for the period. Between a 6% uptick in passenger tickets and a 5% boost in what guests spent once they boarded the ships, Carnival was able to parlay a decent top-line move into a major spike on the bottom line as gross cruise costs held firm.

Wall Street sees a similar scenario playing out at Royal Caribbean Thursday morning. Consensus estimates are calling for a 3% increase in revenue translating into a 28% pop in earnings per share.

Not every analyst is checking in as bullish. A day before last week's Stifel update,Goldman downgraded the stock from Neutral to Sell. Sticking to his $78 price target, Goldman's Stephen Grambling feels that the stock's recent price gains are already discounting a strong report, and he sees it as a laggard in a travel industry where those with more exposure to corporate travel will fare better. The threat of tax reform -- always a lingering notion given the low corporate tax rates cruise lines pay with foreign-flagged ships -- is another reason that Grambling isn't as bullish as some of his peers.

The battle lines have been drawn. At least one Wall Street analyst is going to look good Thursday morning.

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of Royal Caribbean. The Motley Fool recommends Carnival. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.